EXCLUSIVE: A recording of a U.N. investigator talking about a system to speed up U.N. investigations that “gets the Americans off the U.N.’s back” and avoids the U.S. reducing its financial contribution is sparking fresh calls for the Trump administration to do exactly that.
Emma Reilly, a United Nations whistleblower who has faced retaliation for reporting illegal practices that she said put the lives of activists and their families in danger at the U.N. Human Rights office, has called on Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to implement a law that calls for the U.S. to defund the U.N. by 15 percent for noncompliance of its whistleblower protection policy.
Her letter includes a transcript of an undercover recording, which has been reviewed and verified by Fox News, where the head of U.N. investigations talks about cutting down investigative times while keeping the U.S. from complaining.
Ben Swanson, the director at the Investigations Division at the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS,) is heard in the December 2018 meeting of his staff discussing an updated system to speed up investigations of staff accused of retaliating against the complainant.
Swanson, a U.K. national, starts by saying that “this whole thing of retaliation has got the potential to cause us massive, massive problems if we get it wrong.”
As he describes the system, he says the U.N. used to open an investigation in response to a complaint, “and it was taking a long time because some of them are horribly complicated and some of them are just so trivial that they’re just not worth investigating entirely.”
He says the office trialed a process of getting the complaint from the U.N. ethics office, at which point it would write to the person accused of retaliating against a whistleblower or someone who reported misconduct, and ask them to “tell us why you’re not guilty.”
”We’d get the stuff … in from the ethics office, we then write to the subject and, I’m paraphrasing here, saying, ‘Look, the ethics office have said that prima facie that you have retaliated therefore you are guilty of retaliation against Staff Member A, here’s all the material, here’s the ST/AI, write back to us in 10 days and tell us why you haven’t … why you’re not guilty of retaliation,'” he says, to chuckles from others in attendance.
Continuing, he says: “We’ve managed to cut the time down from 247 days down to about 45 because they write back straight away and invariably it’s ‘I don’t know anything about a protected act and this is nonsense, all I did was send out an email telling people to behave themselves.'”
“Then we sort of make the judgment of whether, is it worth getting 64gb of emails to prove that they haven’t only sent the email out, or do we take their word, their sworn word, for it and then say ‘well, ethics office, there is never ever going to be any sanction imposed for this retaliatory act, or whatever it’s called, and we’re not going to do anything else’?”
He says they are effectively doing the ethics office's job and the office had “swallowed it up and accepted it.”
“We’ve done two now, and I think we’ve got another two in the pipeline, and it’s working quite nicely, that brings the figures down [and] that gets the Americans off the U.N.’s back, [it] means they don’t reduce their contribution.”
The man who made the recording, Yves Nadeau, who was with OIOS until he said he was dismissed in December 2018, had worked as a chief resident investigator in Tanzania and Kenya before joining the OIOS at U.N. headquarters in New York. Prior to joining the U.N. in 2005, he said he worked as an administrative judge and registrar in his native Canada.
Nadeau says he was told that he was not performing well and was offered a new assignment within OIOS that he took, at the Inspection and Evaluation Division (IED). He said he received an excellent appraisal for his work with IED but was shortly terminated in the form of an email for what he said was poor performance. Nadeau, who said he has been unemployed since his dismissal, has two cases pending before the U.N. appeals tribunal.
He told Fox News, “The U.N. indeed has a zero-tolerance policy, but we all got it wrong: the U.N. does not tolerate that staff members make reports of misconduct against senior officials and, as the comments by Ben Swanson make it abundantly clear, OIOS will not bother to investigate retaliation cases because they are too difficult and mess up their 'doctored' statistics."
Emma Reilly is fighting to keep her job at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Switzerland. She said China had asked that her office hand over names of Chinese dissidents who were coming to the U.N. Human Rights Council beginning in 2013.
Reilly said she was shocked that the names were handed over, and said she had learned that once the Chinese had their names, both the activists and their families were pressured not to attend the meetings. She said some were even arrested and tortured, and in one case a person was reported to have died in detention.
She told Fox News that she hopes the transcript gives the Trump administration proof “that the U.N. will even invent fake policies to placate them rather than addressing their very legitimate concern that whistleblowers be able to come forward … endangering human rights activists is a perversion of the U.N.'s mandate, and defense of this policy went to the very highest levels."
A State Department spokesperson told Fox News that they had received Reilly’s letter, and that it remained “committed to reforming and strengthening the U.N. system." While non-committal on whether it would take action, the statement concluded, “The United States places the utmost importance on ensuring protections for whistleblowers in the U.N. and other international organizations.”
However, a spokesperson for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was more forthcoming, telling Fox News that "American law clearly requires that we withhold 15 percent of our nation’s contribution to the United Nations when the U.N. violates its own policies that protect whistleblowers.”
In recent years Cruz has taken a leadership position in terms of accountability and whistleblower issues at the U.N., and has called on the State Department to look closely at defunding due to lack of U.N. accountability.
His spokesperson warned, “The United States should absolutely withhold these funds if it is true that the U.N. actively aided the Chinese Communist Party by leaking the identities of dissidents who were speaking out against human rights violations, or if the U.N. is now targeting the whistleblower who spoke out against these leaks.”
Asked if the U.N. was deliberately trying to minimize the number of cases across the U.N. to stave off a U.S. funding cut, Fatoumata N’Diaye, the head of OIOS, was adamant in her response to Fox News.
“The answer is, emphatically, no. OIOS has to investigate referrals from the ethics office. In fact, since January 2019 OIOS has reported 14 cases of possible retaliation, to prevent them, that were unknown to the ethics office for their preventive action and that underscores the fact we are looking at every case seriously. What we are trying to do is to reduce the amount of time it takes us to investigate each case and better serve the interests of the victim.”
Last month, in response to a Fox News question on whether his whistleblower policy was working, and if he would allow Emma Reilly to be fired, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “The whistleblower policy is one of the key instruments we have.”
On Reilly’s case, he said, “In relation to that question there was an investigation that was recently finished, and we are now moving ahead with the conclusions of the investigation. But, one thing is an individual case in which we can have different opinions about this or that. The other thing is a policy in which I am adamant that all those that do their job, their obligation as whistleblowers, are effectively protected.”
Upon receiving the audio recording, Fox News asked U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric about its contents and was told that it reflected “an internal discussion on how to expedite investigations of retaliation complaints, a goal which is in the interest of staff members seeking protection against retaliation.” Dujarric noted that the average time for completing investigations had gone from 308 days to 165.
Peter Gallo, an international lawyer and former OIOS investigator at the U.N., told Fox News “The U.N. is not concerned with misconduct; the only thing the U.N. is afraid of is that the U.S. taxpayer will demand value for their tax dollars, or worse, defund the organization altogether.”
Just last month the Trump administration announced it was terminating its relationship with the World Health Organization, and has shown an appetite for withdrawing or defunding U.N. agencies. It has stopped funding to the U.N. Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA) and withdrawn from the Human Rights Council over concerns about its membership.
Fox News' Nicholas Kalman contributed to this report.